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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

INMA identifies new approaches to attract a Gen Z audience 

September 20, 2022 | By Rande Price, Research VP – DCN

Whether reliant on advertising, subscription revenue, or a combination of both, attracting new audiences is a critical component of media success. And, given that Gen Z is the largest generation, the cohort takes on particular significance. While they consume about the same amount of news as Millennials, they use it much differently than previous generations. Therefore, it is critical that media leaders understand their specific consumption style to attract this younger audience.

The International News Media Association (INMA)’s new report, What Gen Z + Media Need From Each Other, identifies strategies to grow digital news media appeal among the Gen Z audience. Author Paula Felps explores six case studies to see how news media companies are experimenting with connecting with Gen Z. The case studies were on Germany’s Funke Zentralredaktion, The Wall Street Journal in the U.S., Norway’s Dagens Næringsliv, The News Movement in London, The Sydney Morning Herald, and The Australian in Australia.

Understanding Gen Z

The report first offers insight for a better understanding of Gen Z’s news consumption habits and what drives those habits. Felps cites Reuters Institute report to profile Gen Z’s digital consumption habits, and McKinsey and EY research to identify levels of engagement.

Attitude and behavioral differences identified in the research reports:

  • Most Gen Zs turn to social media platforms for news coverage. WhatsApp and Instagram are growing. However, TikTok is becoming the fastest-growing network for news among its younger users. Forty percent of 18 to 24 years old use TikTok and 15% of them use it for news. (Reuters Institute)
  • Gen Z is very inclusive; they reject hierarchy and crave transparency. (McKinsey)
  • Making news more understandable and balanced is key to reaching this age group. (McKinsey)
  • Authenticity is a significant personal value. Issues like climate change, racial injustice, and health care are authentic concerns of Gen Z. (EY)
  • Gen Z doesn’t want more crisis coverage. (Reuters Institute)

Attracting the Gen Z audience

The case studies covered in the report reveal that experimentation is essential in attracting Gen Z. Two of the successful initiatives included are Funke Zentralredaktion and The Wall Street Journal.

  • Funke Zentralredaktion creation of a political TikTok channel is a strong example of attracting and growing a Gen Z audience. Funke used TikTok to introduce top politicians to the platform and asked them questions concerning the Gen Z demographic. The TikTok videos included serious issues but maintained a creative and modern look using filters, emojis, and sounds. The channel grew to nearly 70,000 followers in less than one year, with some videos reaching more than 3 million views.

Important lessons learned from Funke Zentralredaktion’s Gen Z subscribers:

  • Approach serious topics in a creative manner.
  • Ensure that the topic is relatable; find the right angle to address.
  • Meet Gen Z on their platforms, e.g., TikTok.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), part of Dow Jones, created a student membership program to capture college students to create new readership habits. WSJ learned the great value of acquiring younger subscribers and creating a lifelong relationship with the brand.

Important lessons learned from the Wall Street Journal’s Gen Z subscribers:

  • Less news in more formats, offer alternatives to reading news like podcasts or videos.
  • Free and easy, meaning content needs to be compelling and cost-conscious subscription pricing.
  • Digital only and be present where they are – such as Instagram and TikTok.
  • Personalize to attract, engage, and retain this audience.

Hiring Gen Z in the newsroom

Another aspect of attracting this younger audience that the report covers is their critical role as content creators.  One example offered in the report is that of The News Movement. Created by two news veterans, William Lewis, former chief executive of Dow Jones, and Kamal Ahmed, former editorial director at the BBC, the goal of this news platform is to commission and produce content by and for Gen Z. The News Movement distributes its content on Gen Z’s their favorite platforms (i.e., TikTok and Instagram) as well as on its own site. It also has partnerships with the Associated Press (AP) and others to help it produce content. It’s presently in beta.

Felps’ INMA report identifies new approaches for the news media to experiment with to attract Gen Z, like using video or podcast formats and creative filters.

To ensure future sustainability, media companies must engage with Gen Z to offer news that is more understandable and relatable.  And, in addition to meeting this audience where they already are, by distributing content on the platforms and in the formats this generation prefers, it is also critical that media leaders understand that Gen Zers must be included on staff and afforded a voice in the newsroom.

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